Rubio discusses China, natural rights, and 'human flourishing'

A Pillar interview with Sen. Marco Rubio

As new reports emerge of systematic human rights abuses in Xinjiang Province, Senator Marco Rubio said that the Chinese government must be held accountable for its genocidal crimes against Uighurs and other ethnic minorities.

The senator told The Pillar that the U.S. relationship with China will be the defining geopolitical factor of the 21st century, and must focus on “natural rights and the essential dignity of the human person.”

On Feb. 3, the BBC published interviews with survivors of China’s “re-education” camps for ethnic Uighurs. The accounts detailed systematic rape and sexual abuse in the camps, adding to accounts of forced sterilizations and abortions committed against Uighur women.

“There’s growing bipartisan consensus that the atrocities that the Chinese Communist Party has committed against Uighurs and other Muslim minorities in Xinjiang constitute acts of genocide,” Rubio told The Pillar on Thursday.

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“Former Secretary Pompeo’s designation of these horrific acts as crimes against humanity and genocide will be critical to holding accountable those linked to these heinous crimes,” he said, adding his expectation that the Biden administration will continue the tough U.S. stance on the issue. 

Incoming U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken confirmed last month that he agrees with the Trump administration’s designation of the Chinese action against the Uighur as genocide. Rubio told The Pillar he hopes the State Department stays that course. 

“Any move by the Biden administration to weaken or remove these designations would be a huge victory for the CCP, and a tremendous miscarriage of international justice,” Rubio said. “It would mean to turn our backs on the long-suffering Uighurs and other victims of the CCP, while serving the interests of Xi Jinping.”

The senator also discussed the ongoing crackdown on democracy and free speech in Hong Kong. 

Continuing U.S. support for pro-democracy activists in the region is crucial, he said, pointing to the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, a 2019 bill he introduced, which requires the U.S. government to sanction Chinese officials responsible for human rights abuses in Hong Kong. 

Rubio said the bill’s overwhelming bipartisan support was “as clear a sign as any that legislators want us to extend support to the people of Hong Kong.” 

“The U.S. must continue to stand with them and hold accountable all of the CCP and Hong Kong city officials who have undermined the community’s autonomy and the rule of law.” 

Rubio also spoke to The Pillar about how the U.S. economic relationship with China factors into its push on human rights. 

Rubio urged U.S. companies to pull back from manufacturing and other business engagement in the country, noting that a long-held expectation that China would democratize as it grew economically “has been ruinous for working Americans.”

“For some time, there was bipartisan consensus in this country that once China got rich it would lead to its political liberalization. That can’t be further from the truth, and with the erosion of much of our ability to manufacture things and millions of jobs with it, we are paying the price of that mistake.” 

“Any future dealings with China must be conditioned on our ability to rebuild that capacity, provide dignified work to Americans, and win the battle over advanced manufacturing and other industries of tomorrow,” he said.

The senator also said he is concerned about China’s relationships with developing nations in Asia and Africa, many of which have been the beneficiaries of Chinese investment in infrastructure, and low-interest loans aimed at development. Rubio warned that Chinese investment is aimed at creating client states, not helping emerging nations develop.

“It is impossible to have an economic-only relationship with the Chinese Communist Party,” he said. 

“At some point they will make demands of countries, and if those governments say no the consequences will be tremendous. That is the entire point of China’s belt-and-road initiative, to trap these countries in debt -- in patronage -- to the communist regime in Beijing.”

Catholic bishops in some parts of the developing world have expressed similar sentiments, warning government leaders that investments with China might come with eventual consequences for religious freedom in their countries. 

Rubio offered an even broader set of concerns.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the CCP’s goal is to be the world's predominant political, geopolitical, military, and economic power. We cannot let that vision come to pass,” the senator said.

“I say with conviction that the 21st century will be defined by the geopolitical relationship between the United States and the Chinese Communist Party,” Rubio said. He predicted that the power dynamic of the U.S.-China relationship will have implications for religious believers and human rights in many parts of the world.  

“The CCP is abhorrent for a number of reasons, but one of the most important differences between its rigidly ideologically mindset and our philosophy is our understanding of natural rights and the essential dignity of the human person.”

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“Human flourishing is predicated on acknowledging” that dignity, Rubio said, “and, from there, putting together policies that allow people to pursue the common good -- to raise families, get good jobs, build safe neighborhoods, and, down the line, retire with dignity.”

“Because the CCP refuses to understand this central conception of natural rights, their people will never —  not even after decades and decades of material growth —  truly be able to flourish,” the senator said.

While the senator’s interview did not discuss domestic policy issues, Rubio, a Catholic who worships in both Protestant and Catholic churches, has said in recent years that his own vision of human flourishing — and of economic policy — is rooted in Catholic social doctrine, which he says is key to rebuilding a just American economy. He has outlined a vision he calls “common good capitalism,” which he says is built from the social magisterium of the Church.